Pain, Pleasure, Neutral?


Sylvia Boorstein, an esteemed teacher of Theravada Buddhism, once led me into a meditation exercise where I was asked to notice every thought and to label it as painful, pleasurable, or neutral.

Easier said than done.

First, ‘notice your thoughts’. Anyone who has practiced meditation in any of its forms immediately comes face to face with the difficulty in this seemingly simple task. I have been practicing yoga & meditation since the mid 70’s so some of those initial obstacles to the task have become somewhat easier.

Putting these thoughts into three simple categories was also not quite as simple as it seems. The first thing I discovered was that I had to ‘think’ about it. Many of my thoughts seemed to span across all three categories and could fit into any one of them depending on the time of day, time of year, or present day circumstances of my life. Consider the thought, “I am hungry”. If that thought is accompanied by strong, uncomfortable sensations in my belly the thought might be quite painful. If the thought is occuring just as I drive by a wonderful restaurant, the thought would fit in the pleasure column. And, if the thought occurs in the middle of a yoga asana, neutral would be the proper categorization.

The purpose of this exercise is to bring further into the light of consciousness how our desire nature governs our minds and actions. The same thing applies to that part of ourselves that resists pain. Neutrality, the middle path, brings us closer to separating reality from illusion. Nearly all thoughts that fall into the pain/pleasure column take us away from the present moment into either the past or the future. When we are thinking about past/future our mind becomes disengaged from our body. The body is always here, now. The mind is the time traveler and when it’s not here, now, is when suffering occurs. (according to G. Buddah)

The yogi’s have their own way of teaching these same truths. The Klesha’s represent the obstacles to enlightenment and mirror the same obstacles set forth by the Buddhists. Essentially it all comes down to greed, aversion & delusion.

Whew…………..heady thoughts for a quiet Sunday morning. I just finished reading Breakfast with Buddah. A good read.


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